Why it matters: Regulators have levied hefty fines on big tech companies for their antitrust and privacy violations, but not much has been done about punishing those directly responsible for the wrongdoing. A newly proposed privacy law could see key executives like Mark Zuckerberg answer directly and even do jail time. Regulators believe this may be the only way to keep companies from applying Mark Zuckerberg’s “move fast and break things” principle.
When Mark Zuckerberg publicly asked governments to regulate tech firms, he probably didn’t have personal accountability in mind. For all the talk about a more privacy-focused Facebook, the CEO has little to show for it. The most recent development has been a meeting with several White House officials to discuss internet regulation and antitrust issues. However, when pressed by senators on the issues of privacy, he offered vague responses that the company is still in the process of figuring that out.
Now, Oregon Senator Ron Wyden is pushing for regulation that could hold tech company executives personally responsible for failing to protect user privacy and security on their respective platforms. The new privacy bill is suggestively called the “Mind Your Own Business Act,” and builds on top of a previous draft from last year.
If it passes, the new legislation would give the Federal Trade Commission more effective tools to battle tech giants that violate data privacy laws. Specifically, it would give it the authority to set minimum privacy and security standards that companies have to follow, and to issue heavier fines of up to four percent of annual revenue on the first offense.
This comes after the FTC was criticized for the relatively mild punishments applied to companies like Facebook, Equifax, and YouTube. In the case of Facebook, the result of the $5 billion fine was that the value of the company increased by $10 billion, which is arguably not how punishment is supposed to work.
For executives that knowingly lie to the FTC, there would be harsh punishments – between 10 and 20 years of jail time. Their companies would also be forced to pay a tax based on their salary. Wyden said in a statement that “Mark Zuckerberg won’t take Americans’ privacy seriously unless he feels personal consequences.”
Wyden also believes the bill at the very least would provide the same protections as Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation. Consumers could get a one-click way to opt out of sharing their personal information and companies would have to offer clear explanations of how they use and share that information.
For companies that own social platforms like Twitter and Facebook, they would have to provide “privacy-friendly” versions of their services for a reasonable fee. The bill would also extend the FCC’s Lifeline program to ensure those privacy-focused versions would also be accessible to low-income consumers.
As with previous privacy bills that have been proposed over the last few years, the Mind Your Own Business Act has to gain bipartisan support. It’s worth noting that Wyden’s bill would not preempt states from making their own privacy regulations, so there’s one less source of conflict to worry about.